Taken by New York


Inta Balode,* Madli Pesti,** Elena Slobodchikova***

It is hard not to be taken by New York. Every night there are hundreds of performances to choose from. Once the choice is made some generalizations about all New York performing arts arrive. Three of us visiting New York for just to mention some festivals – American Realness, Coil, Under the Radar, Live Artery – made a quick experiment. Some keywords related to the experiences got suggested and here are the first considerations written down mostly in the Train 7 going from Queens into Manhattan and back out. Texts are published as they were written. Others didn’t see colleagues writings before the experiment was finished.


Madli Pesti: Concrete spaces. Wooden spaces. Black spaces. White spaces. Big spaces. Intimate spaces. Cold spaces. Old spaces. New spaces. Intensive bodies moving around among the audience. Silence. Heavy music. Links to your life. Links to the outside world.

Inta Balode: We would say if it’s such a huge city and so many people come in for the festivals from all over the world, then one should squeeze in any space as much people as possible. No, if the concept demands – show for 15 people and that’s it. Couple extra tickets sold wouldn’t compensate the sacrifice of artistic idea. On the other hand, ability to organize and use spaces efficiently is seen all around – everything in good order, all in place, no waste of precious commonly shared New York space.

Elena Slobodchikova: There are no borders in the space. Risks in the use of space.

Hard working

I.B: Dancers are different from other artists. Known for working themselves out and down like crazy. Ready to meet any circumstances; dance whenever, ready to wait for other artists, modest. With European conceptual trends those features seem to be gone a little. Multi-artists are more pretentious than dancers. Here in New York every work has huge hard work behind it. Not that you see it on the stage as effort, what you see is sophistication; thoroughly worked out and thought through things. Precision and detail even in the seemingly crazy, wild and provocative works.

M.P.: Sweating bodies. Bending themselves against all nature laws. Some artists here have the possibility to develop their work for 2 years – salaries, grants guaranteed. Some have half a year time. Even that is a lot. And you can see it. They don’t waste their nor audience’s time. They don’t want to look beautiful, they want to convey ideas. They work hard both physically and mentally. I think this mental working is that takes most of the time. That’s why half a year or 2 years preparation is important. You can see that the work is thoroughly thought trough. These are big generalizations but that’s what I have felt watching performers here.

E.S.: Use of technology, text, space. Artists, dancers on the edge of fall.

Personalities on stage

M.P.: Again generalizations but take it as truth. All the performers on stage here are personalities. They know exactly why they are on stage and what they want to convey to the audience. Most of these performers would not get into Estonian theater or dance schools. They are too original, they don’t fit into frames. There is a fat lady moving like a young god, you can feel her life behind her. There is a young guy just out of Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” – or could also be from outer space with the longest limbs I have ever seen. Or another guy – you could take him for a church choir boy – but how smart and inventive and intelligent his performances are. Then there is another black guy – shivering all the time, I’m afraid he’s going to have a nervous breakdown.

I.B.: Where it comes from that any of the performers we see can just stand on stage and it is interesting? Besides they are super accessible, all the time around, chatting, you can see them in space before the show starts – just sitting or still rehearsing. No fear of demystification. Still at any second they can switch to super stage presence and we are taken into it by all 100 %. Because being artist in the US is harder than in Europe (almost no state funding)? Is there something different in education? They sing better than some vocal jazz groups, they talk just great, and texts are written by themselves. They are smart – use of philosophical and scientific ideas seem to be so natural and easy. It really seems they mean what they do, believe in what they do. One of the choreographers said that she might be naïve but she still believes in the possibility to create her own thing not only copy and re-copy.

E.S. Personality as sexuality.

Personal vs political

M.P.: These approximately 20 performances I have seen so far have been surprisingly personal. No work has been overtly/openly political, although there is financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street going on out there. The world is going under, we are sawing the branch where we’re sitting on. Still, there was one performer who touched the issue of global warming. And the top work of the festival also looked broader on our world and criticized our obsession of brands, trends and vogues. Still most of the performers deal with their limits of their body or touch the borders of a performative situation itself. Playing with meta-levels is still an issue.

I.B.: She quit drinking and taking drugs and making arts world through drugs. Now she is environmental activist. I would guess – also vegetarian. And still making interesting arts. She quit making crazy, experimental works, including the one where she runs on the stage with huge black plastic dick attached to her pelvis. She went to Japan and learned Kabuki dance, which became core of her new work. It is still contemporary dance work. Do performances where audience get involved can be compared to pre-election actions? Artists’ attempt to get us, knowing that coming too close is risky? Does the piece with huge black guy and tiny white girl says something about American politics? Does my personal story become political through public funding granted to work?


* Dance critic, Latvia

** Theater and dance critic, Estonia

***Choreographer, director of the festival “Isadora” in Krasnoyarsk, Russia